Cindy Speaker: Good afternoon, and welcome to our broadcast today. My name is Cindy Speaker. I have with me as my guest, one of my favorite guests, Nathan Guin of Gardberg and Kemmerly. How you doing, Nathan?
Nathan Guin: I’m doing very, very well. Thank you very much. That’s very flattering.
Cindy Speaker: Well, always good to see you.
Nathan Guin: You too as well.
Cindy Speaker: I always enjoy it. Well, when we talk with Nathan … Nathan has, we have a library of videos where Nathan has talked with us about various aspects of veterans disability law, and I hope that you’ll look there. We’ll put links to the library on this page so that you can find those other ones because so much of it builds from one another. And today, the topic we’re gonna talk about is increased ratings. But Nathan, before we start, let’s just make sure foundationally that we understand what a rating is and how that comes into play in a veterans disability claim before we talk about increasing it.
Nathan Guin: Yeah, absolutely. Every veteran who has a service connected disability will have either a specific rating for that one disability, which would also be his total rating, or if they have multiple, they would have individual ratings for each condition and then a total rating. So, for example, and that basically correlates with how much you get paid. So, if you have 30% for PTSD and that’s your only service connected issue, you’d have a 30% total rating, and then you would get paid at whatever the current rate would be for 30%.
Cindy Speaker: Okay.
Nathan Guin: A 30% compensation rating.
Cindy Speaker: Okay, so at what point would it be appropriate to talk about a ratings increase?
Nathan Guin: So, obviously to talk about ratings increase, you would want a rating first. And so, usually that’s the first step-
Cindy Speaker: Right.
Nathan Guin: Which is pretty easy. And then other than that, if you’re a veteran, if you feel like you’re entitled to it, whether you have an attorney or not, if you feel as if your condition’s gotten worse whether it be based on your medical records or just every day … excuse me, activities of daily living, then that would be the time to think about. And if you have an attorney to approach them to discuss it for an evaluation of whether or not it would be appropriate.
Cindy Speaker: Okay. And what kind of evidence do you need to present in order to justify a potential ratings increase?
Cindy Speaker: But cover it briefly for us.
Nathan Guin: Yeah, so lay evidence would be anything from, and those are really helpful for like PTSD and things like that. Or musculoskeletal injuries. A lay statement or lay evidence would be a statement from either the veteran or family member, friend, whoever it might be that can personally attest to whatever disability it is, its progression and severity, current severity, veteran’s symptoms, you know, things like that. So anybody who knows the veteran personally, including the veteran themselves, can write a statement and submit it to the VA for consideration of evidence.
Cindy Speaker: Okay. So, and you said there were a couple times … is there other types of evidence?
Nathan Guin: Right. So, the lay evidence would probably be the least valuable in terms of an increase-
Cindy Speaker: Okay.
Nathan Guin: But, I just wanted to touch on this one-
Cindy Speaker: Okay, got you.
Nathan Guin: The second would be obviously medical evidence. And that would be things from your doctor specifically saying, you know, if you have like a knee problem, knee progressively worse, more arthritis than we’ve seen on the last MRI, things like that, that are objective medical findings. So, those are always good too. The third would be subjective medical evidence. And it could also be a combination of lay evidence from the veteran. So, that would be things like impairments in your activities of daily living. So, if you have a back disability and you used to be able to walk 30 minutes before you had to sit down, and now it’s down to 15 and you have to rest longer to get back up, things like that, that have changed or progressively worsened can also be considered for an increase, and those are also important.
Cindy Speaker: Are there specific formats or forms? How is this all presented on your behalf?
Nathan Guin: You can do it a number of different ways. Sometimes if we don’t have … if we just have medical records that have the evidence, we’ll draft up an argument basically submitting those records and highlighting what we want the VA to know.
Cindy Speaker: Okay.
Nathan Guin: Probably easier more effective way to do it, if you have a good relationship with your doctor, somebody who’s willing to do this. For almost every condition there’s what’s called a disability benefits questionnaire or DBQ. You can find those online, you can Google them, or go on the VA website. You can pretty much find them pretty easily on the internet, and we have them at our office too saved on our server. And those are VA forms that are based on the diagnostic criteria. And so, a doctor can go through that and check the boxes, fill out the any kind of subjective part where they need to pencil it in, but most of it is gonna be check boxes. And those check boxes and different things like that correlate specifically to a percentage rating. So, those are the most efficient ways I guess to argue it because if you just send them … you can say hey I have a DBQ from Dr. X and it’s your form, and it’s got bam, bam, bam, and here’s the evidence in it. Then you can pretty easily say they’re entitled to an increase to whatever percentage it might be. So, DBQs are probably the most helpful if you wanna be the most efficient.
Cindy Speaker: And when an attorney, such as yourself is involved, I would imagine you help to gather this evidence and put this all together?
Nathan Guin: Yeah, absolutely. That’s one of the benefits I guess at least of our firm is … if you have VA doctors, a lot of times, if you only go to the VA, which a lot of our veterans do, they’re not willing to fill out those forms some of the time. Some private doctors won’t. They’ll get a little, you know, they may not be comfortable with it. And so, the good thing is that we’ve got some different avenues, some different connections across the country that do medical opinions-
Cindy Speaker: Oh, excellent.
Nathan Guin: And so, yeah, if you have a doctor who’s unwilling to do a DBQ or some kind of an opinion for an increase, that might be something we might be able to send out to one of the people we know. Send out your file for a records review, and they can right up an opinion on that-
Cindy Speaker: Right.
Nathan Guin: Yeah, so there are a lot of ways to do it. And that’s one of the benefits I guess of our firm is that if your normal doctor’s in Mobile or wherever they may be throughout the country aren’t cooperative, we certainly know some that are and are very affluent in the VA language in terms … and know what they like to see.
Cindy Speaker: Very helpful. Let me read this next one because I wanna get it right. Can a veteran or their attorney submit a NEXUS statement, and I know we talked about that, for ratings increases as they can for claims for service connection? And, mention what a NEXUS statement is briefly although, just to let people know we do have a video specifically on that.
Nathan Guin: Absolutely. So, a NEXUS statement, just in short terms, because you can go see the video, is a doctor or medical professional of some kind saying that this currently diagnosed disability or condition is related to this veteran’s period of service, or service connected condition if it’s a secondary condition. So, it’s some doctor saying that because of A, you know then C, basically. And in between, there’s a link. B being the link of the injury in service and the current diagnosis.
And so, a lot of people because of that, kinda getting into the question is you know, they think that NEXUS statements are only for service connection which is technically true I guess in the true sense of the term NEXUS. But kinda like we’ve talked before, you can always submit a DBQs or independent medical opinions that look similar to NEXUS statements in content but instead of rendering opinions saying it’s as likely it’s not related to service, they can say after review of the files, the medical evidence, the diagnostic criteria, whatever it may be, I believe that this veteran is entitled to X percentage for this condition.
Cindy Speaker: Okay.
Nathan Guin: And so, you can use it largely in the same way as you can for service connection but sometimes you kinda forget about it once you get service connection. But you can still use them. They’re very useful.
Cindy Speaker: Okay. Now, if a veteran does apply for increased ratings, how long does that process take typically?
Nathan Guin: Depending on what part of the process you’re at, it can take varying amounts of time. So, if you get an initial rating decision, your next step would be to file a notice of disagreement. And right now, notices of disagreement are taking between two and two and a half years to get processed to get a decision back to us.
Cindy Speaker: Wow.
Nathan Guin: And that’s difficult, been a little difficult. Obviously, people are frustrated by that. And we’re doing everything we can on our end to make that as good of a situation as we can from our end, although it’s somewhat limited. So, for NODs it’s taking two to two and a half years, and if you’re at the point where you get a statement of the case, and you’re appealing it to the Board of Veterans Appeals, at that point it can take three to four years to get a hearing date set. So, it’s really a timely process. That’s why we try to get all the best evidence we can as early and as often as we possibly can to try to cut down on that. And there is a new system coming out, a new VA Appeals System next February, so we should do a show on that at some point but we won’t get in there … hopefully that’ll help. But right now, depending on where you’re at it’s taking anywhere between two to four years to depending on what part of the process.
Cindy Speaker: Now, are the benefits all retroactive?
Nathan Guin: It’s both. So, what they’ll do is, you won’t be penalized for the wait, obviously, other than the fact that you just won’t have the money at that point but if they do grant an increase and the effective date goes back to the date of the application or whatever it may be, you know back in time obviously from the date of the decision, they will pay you all the accrued benefits that you’d be entitled to for that. So, that’d just be the difference between if you had a rating, it’d be a difference between your past rating and the new rating. So, if you’re getting 30%, they raise you to 50 total, they have to pay you the difference.
Cindy Speaker: Okay.
Nathan Guin: But if you have no benefits, you’re going from zero to whatever it might be, they’d pay you obviously back that way, and then they’d pay you obviously forward looking as well. So, you’d get the back benefits that you were waiting for during the pendency of the appeal, and then you get the regular monthly compensation going forward from there.
Cindy Speaker: Okay. Very good. Once again, you’re a master of these topics. It’s very interesting. And honestly, I admire your knowledge of all these because you just kinda rattle it off. It just seems like second nature to you.
Nathan Guin: I appreciate it. That definitely makes me feel good. I hope it’s becoming second nature. Sometimes it can still be pretty challenging but it’s always fun.
Cindy Speaker: That’s good. Well, Nathan, if someone has questions, how can they reach your office?
Nathan Guin: They can give us a call at 251-343-1111 or they can find some more ways to reach us at our website, www.gardberglaw.com. That’s G-A-R-D-B-E-R-G law dot com. You can find our number there, and you can find the contact us section where you can send us an email if you’d rather do that.
Cindy Speaker: Very good. Well thank you for being with us today.
Nathan Guin: Thank you for having me. I’m glad to get the information out, and hopefully it’s helpful.
Cindy Speaker: Yes, definitely. Okay, thanks everyone for joining us today. If you have questions, comments, feel free to leave them on this page. We’ll get your questions answered and we’ll see you all again soon. Bye.